If you’re a fan of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food, you’re familiar with feta cheese. Its salty moist crumbliness makes it unique among cheeses. It may surprise you to learn that some consider feta the healthiest cheese, especially if made with organic sheep or goat milk.
Feta’s nutritional overview includes significant protein; calcium; B-complex vitamins riboflavin, vitamin B6, B12, and pantothenic acid; vitamin A; iron; phosphorus; zinc; and many trace minerals (selenium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and manganese).
Real feta cheese isn’t made from cow’s milk. Originating thousands of years ago, this salty cheese goes through a pickling process that develops its distinct flavor. Genuine feta only comes from certain regions in Greece. While it’s primarily made from sheep milk, it can contain up to 30% goat milk and still be called feta.
If you’re a cheese fiend, here are some reasons to make feta a top choice.
5 Benefits of Feta Cheese
Is feta cheese healthy? Look no further for the answer!
Many people are lactose intolerant, meaning that they find it difficult to digest lactose, a sugar found in cow milk.
Many other can’t digest the proteins in dairy.
Sheep and goat milk from which feta is made contain less lactose than cow milk. What’s more, sugar is further broken down during the cheese-making process.
Lots of people find they can enjoy feta when other (cow) cheese is out of the question.
If you have trouble digesting cow’s milk, make sure to carefully read the packaging on your feta to make sure you’re not being duped.
2. Vitamin B6 and Histidine
Histidine is an essential amino acid in feta that is necessary for protecting nerve cells, producing red blood cells, and protecting tissues from radiation and heavy metal damage.
It’s also metabolized into the neurotransmitters histamine and carnosine, which are involved in immune response, digestion, and proper muscle, brain, and sexual function. (1)
Histidine has antioxidant properties and is anti-inflammatory by its very nature. As such, histidine therapy for rheumatoid arthritis and psychiatric disorders has been very effective. (2) Carnosine, on the other hand, reduces muscle fatigue and improves muscle function. (3)
Vitamin B6 is actually a group of over one hundred enzymes. Histidine needs vitamin B6 to synthesize histamine and carnosine. (4) Since both are found in feta cheese, it’s a great source of nutrients.
3. Lots of Protein
Protein is critical for repairing and building muscle; it’s also necessary for the structure, function, and regulation of organs and tissue. Proteins of varying kinds act as antibodies, enzymes, messengers, and transporters. (5) It’s important to get enough and a balanced amount with each meal.
Some animal proteins have the added beneficial effect of reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes:
“Among the various types of animal-based protein foods, a higher intake of dairy products (such as milk, yogurt, cheese and whey protein) consistently shows a beneficial relationship with glucose regulation and/or T2DM [type 2 diabetes mellitus] risk reduction…studies provide evidence that dairy proteins have more potent effects on insulin and incretin secretion compared to other commonly consumed animal proteins. In addition to their protein components, such as insulinogenic amino acids and bioactive peptides, dairy products also contain a food matrix rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, trans-palmitoleic fatty acids, and low-glycemic index sugars—all of which have been shown to have beneficial effects on aspects of glucose control, insulin secretion, insulin sensitivity and/or T2DM risk.” (6)
With little sugar content, feta provides 14 delicious grams of protein in a 100g serving.
4. Calcium and Bone Health
We know that calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth; approximately 99% of the body’s calcium exists there. What you may not know is that it plays an important role in the transport of oxygen between cells, blood coagulation, muscle performance, and neurotransmission. (7)
Calcium is an essential nutrient, meaning that the body doesn’t make its own and it must be gotten from food. We lose calcium and other minerals through urine, feces, perspiration, nails, and skin. Calcium must, therefore, be constantly replenished. Many people don’t regularly get enough calcium in their diets, so the body will take what it needs from bones, weakening them over time. (8)
Thirty grams of feta contains 14% of the recommended daily intake of calcium. It also contains a significant amount of vitamin D, a nutrient that is necessary for the absorption of calcium. (9)
5. Vitamin A
More than a critical essential nutrient for vision, vitamin A is necessary for healthy skin, immune function, organ formation and maintenance, reproduction, and communication between cells.
Generally, vitamin A is responsible for the differentiation of every cell in the body. (10) Feta cheese contains a delicious dose of this fat-soluble vitamin. The healthy fat in feta aids in A’s absorption.
Everything in Moderation
While feta is one of the most nutritious cheeses you can eat, it’s not something you want to eat a pound of in one sitting. There’s a huge amount of sodium in feta; too much salt can lead to hypertension and potassium deficiency.
Feta’s fat is good for your brain but too much saturated fat is bad for your circulatory system.
What to Look for When Buying Feta
- If it’s not made from sheep milk or a combination of sheep and goat milk, it’s not real feta. Buy Greek feta if you can—it’s the real thing. Regulations for feta cheese in Greece are rigorous and they know their feta.
- Buy certified organic – this ensures humane animal treatment, no synthetic chemicals or genetically modified organisms in their feed, and no routine hormone or antibiotic treatment.
- Feta should always be white and is stored in brine to keep it fresh. If it’s yellowish, the cheese has been exposed to air outside the brine.
- Feta should have tiny holes on the surface and be semi-firm. Crumbly feta is a sign of cheese made from cow milk.
Crumble a small chunk on a sandwich, salad, or side vegetable to add pungent punch or drizzle with honey for a unique dessert.
It’s betta with feta, so eat up!